Immediately after “Ai no Tane” and “Morning Coffee” came the song that really changed Morning Musume’s image: the brilliant “Summer Night Town.” It was followed by a song that earned the group their first Kouhaku appearance, “Daite HOLD ON ME!,” as well as the elegant “Memory Seishun no Hikari.” One man who greatly contributed to the arrangements of this “cool style” of early Morning Musume was Maejima Yasuaki. Having been a member of bands like SPICK & SPAN and Orquesta de la Luz — as well as a long-serving band leader for Moritaka Chisato in the 90’s — what kinds of things surprised this veteran of music in his work with Tsunku♂?
— Could you tell us about how you first came to be involved with Hello! Project?
Maejima: I was very much indebted to Seto Yukio, Moritaka Chisato’s producer. Seto had previously arranged a song or two for Sharan Q, and that’s how he’d gotten acquainted with Tsunku♂ and the rest of the band. Before long, the project for Morning Musume’s debut was underway and Seto called me along.
— I still remember the first time I heard “Summer Night Town” — it was like the perfect night-time kayou kyoku song. Did it already sound that way on Tsunku♂’s original demo?
Maejima: If I remember correctly, I received a very basic, programmed demo of the song. It wasn’t yet quite like how it eventually turned out, but the melody and overall harmonies were already there, meaning I didn’t have to give it a huge makeover or anything. I just stayed faithful to the demo I’d received… I think. I don’t really remember the specifics.
H: These are the highlights (as chosen by me) of Okai’s Q&A event held on October 19th. Please note that her answers were actually, in all likelihood, much more verbose — think of her answers below as just quick, tweet-sized summaries.
— Do you still want to form the unit with Airi that you’ve previously talked about?
It feels like that could lead to fights between the two of us so fast. We’re both kinda stubborn, so it can get a bit heated even just deciding on setlists for our events. But yeah, after °C-ute breaks up, it would be nice to get together to do an event together by the two of us — every now and then.
— Have you been going to karaoke lately?
My doctor has been stopping me from doing so since my throat troubles. Before that, I used to go four times a week. But I like to drink when I go to karaoke, and that apparently makes it even worse for your throat.
— I love you so much, I probably won’t even be able to sleep at night anymore. What should I do?
Yeah, I can see right through people like this. This person is in reality obviously an Airi fan.
It was Pour Lui‘s admiration for Morning Musume and Takahashi Ai that made her decide she wanted to form an idol group of her own, and she then went on to become the leader and “naughty” member of BiS. Meanwhile, singer-songwriter Oomori Seiko has been performing her H!P covers at Hello! Shops, conveying her love of Hello! Project and Michishige Sayumi in particular. Admitting to being greatly influenced by Platinum Era Morning Musume especially, these two talked to us about what in Hello! Project music appeals to them, as well as what makes them so partial to Morning Musume.
— To start off, could you tell us how you first came in contact with Hello! Project?
Pour: I’m 23 years old which means I’m just the age where I was in elementary school when Morning Musume became huge.
Oomori: Same here. I’m the same age as Tsuji and Kago. I remember seeing Morning Musume on TV when I was 13 or 14 years old and being moved upon learning how those two were the same age as me and yet being such hard workers. That’s when I became a fan.
— What about them caught your interest?
Pour: For me, it was purely admiration and love.
Oomori: I’m very interested in girls — I had this “habit” of looking inside bags of girls I liked, trying to find their gym suits and stuff… all kinds of male virgin loser stuff like that. Morning Musume was the perfect target to focus my curiosity on simply because no one would get angry at me. (laughs)
From Morning Musume’s soulful funk of “The Matenrou Show” to the almost choir-like “Dekkai Uchuu ni Ai ga Aru” to the humor of “Chokkan ~Toki Toshite Koi wa~” and beyond, Suzuki Shunsuke has been responsible for the color received by a wide variety of Hello! Project songs. Where are his musical origins and what is the source of his varied arrangements?
— Could you start by telling us about your musical roots?
Suzuki: I had a father who loved jazz as well as a big brother who loved Western music, so it was only natural that I came into contact with music myself. My big brother played guitar, so one day around the time I was in middle school I picked it up and just thought, “okay, I could see myself doing this.” I just felt it the moment I picked up that guitar. So then I formed an instrumental fusion band in middle school, but we couldn’t find a drummer so we had to rely on a drum machine which is when I learned my basics about programming. I also loved YMO and progressive rock — I was mainly listening to instrumental music.
— Did you listen to any popular music?
Suzuki: I didn’t really come into contact with it. I wasn’t even watching The Best Ten. It was the one area of music I knew nothing about. I was too busy learning jazz guitar in high school — I was hooked on everything but kayou kyoku. I just didn’t have the time for pop.
In this article, we get a discussion between Tower Records president and noted Hello! Project fan Minewaki Ikuo, and professional book critic as well as interviewer Yoshida Go. The topic: “your favorite Hello! Project singles of all-time.” However…!?
— I would like to take this opportunity to talk with you two about your favorite Hello! Project singles and B-sides.
Yoshida: See, that’s my first gripe with this thing — only being able to choose from single releases! I mean, you simply can’t have as much personality without all the album tracks, too. Whenever I’m doing Hello! Project DJ’ing events, I hardly ever play the singles — I mostly just do songs from their soundtracks and stuff. That, and songs from fanclub-only releases.
Minewaki: But even with just the singles alone, there’s so many to choose from. I just can’t do it. (laughs) So what I’d like to do with this article is, I’d mainly like to talk about Yoshida’s favorites and just offer my views on them.
— Sure, let’s go with that. (laughs) Shall we begin with Morning Musume?
Nagai Rui — the man responsible for arranging one of Hello! Project’s most long-lasting favorites, Tanpopo’s “Otome Pasta ni Kandou.” While he hasn’t arranged a great number of songs for Hello! Project, all of them have left a lasting impact. In this interview, he talks about everything from his musical roots to a certain unexpected (?) meaning behind one of Tanpopo’s songs.
— You’re a successful lyricist, songwriter and arranger, and also a talented multi-instrumentalist. Could you talk a little bit about how that came to be?
Nagai: I guess it all began when I first started learning how to play the piano back in kindergarten. But it’s not like I’m from a family of academics or anything, so I just played for my own amusement. Then I got into elementary school… high school… and I was just floored by The Beatles. That made me pick up the guitar — although that, too, was just for my own amusement. I was in bands since junior high school, but every time there’d be problems like “the bassist can’t really play the bass” or something, so then I’d have to try playing the bass myself, or I’d have to play the guitar, or I’d have to sing… I got to try it all.
— And through that, you picked up all those instruments naturally?
Nagai: Yes. And since all we were doing at the time were Beatles and Queen covers, my playing was always a little bit eccentric from the get-go. Of course later I got to listen to all kinds of different music as well, but since those two bands were my roots it took me a long time to even realize that my playing was unusual.
Beginning with Berryz Koubou’s “Anata Nashi de wa Ikite Yukenai” and Gomattou’s “SHALL WE LOVE?“, AKIRA has been the biggest name in Hello! Project when it comes to R&B. Having originally come from the field of R&B himself, how does he work when it comes to the music of Hello! Project?
— Could you start by talking about how you first became interested in music production?
AKIRA: I was always a big fan of fusion music and I played bass in a band back in high school. Once I returned from studying abroad in America, I found that the new jack swing genre had become popular, and through it I got into R&B which made me get into trackmaking as well as singing. I taught myself how to do music programming as well.
— How did you become a professional musician?
AKIRA: Rittor Music was hosting this thing called AXIA Artist Audition in ’96. You could take part in it just by sending in a tape — this was perfect for me since I hated singing in front of people. (laughs) I participated in it two years in a row, receiving an award both times. People who made it into the final round of the audition got their song put on a CD and sent to record labels, which is how I then joined Toshiba-EMI as a kind of a singer-songwriter. I made the move from Sapporo to Tokyo in ’98 and started working as a songwriter, first receiving work from the recording directors of Toshino Yonekura and Nakanishi Keizo. Right after that, I started working with Hello! Project.
— So you first worked with Hello! Project almost immediately after you began working professionally as a songwriter.
AKIRA: Right during that initial period, yes. I was pretty much raised by Hello! Project. It was like school for me.
Member of Base Ball Bear and idol critic Koide Yusuke, up-and-coming beat maker and idol fan tofubeats, and writer Namba Kazumi. We got these three to talk on the subject of “your five favorite Hello! Project singles of all time.” What do they think are the best singles…!?
Namba: So, since this book is about the singles of Hello! Project, we’ve been tasked with talking about our five favorite singles.
Koide: Every era has its gems. I have a feeling this is going to be a tough roundtable.
tofubeats: Do we really have to limit ourselves to just five…?